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cna yuo raed tihs

cna yuo raed tihs?

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”


For over a decade(1) I’ve pushed back(2) on it every time it’s appeared. Coming across a variation of it today in “Life’s Little Mysteries“, I responded:

As the beginning example renders self-evident, a good reader reads words as wholes and, as you point out, engages many processing strategies including contextual disambiguation in doing so.  But try giving this to a beginning reader. The ability to recognize words in ways we good readers can is the result of the process of learning to read. And that’s where the danger comes in.

For many subscribers of “whole language” this (what a good reader does in recognizing words as wholes) is taken as evidence for why we don’t have to teach children how to process the code.  Attempting to teach children to recognize words as wholes (as images and by context) without decoding letter-sounds has contributed significantly to why millions of children who can’t read well and feel ashamed of their minds because they can’t.

 Unnatural Confusion


1- This has been circulating for over a decade that I know of (Search: “cna yuo raed this” 139,000 results and “aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at cmabrigde uinervtisy”  27,500 results)

2 – Back in 2003 Dr. William Wilson shared this piece with a friend of mine. I responded with a variation on the above to which he replied:

Reading your response to what I sent rang a bell.  I’m 62 and still am a slow reader.  I barely passed Evelyn Wood.  I’ve wondered if I have some kind of “learning disabiliby” or at least a functional disability in some part of that process. Someday, when I have time to spare, I will find some kind of reading specialist who can dissect my reading.  It’s probably too late to change anything, but I’d sure like to understand my process, maybe as an insight into the way the mind works. I’ve wondered about that for most of my life, and have been doing little experiments with my ability to recognize, remember and get meaning out of visual images.


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3 Responses to cna yuo raed tihs

  1. kerry hempenstall November 5, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    Yes, it’s true that once you’ve reached the orthographic stage of reading, you can cope with some misplaced letters. Of course, it ruins your fluency. Struggling and beginning readers do far less well.

    It is thought (Adams, 1990) that we receive noisy information about letter order because small closely spaced print creates limitations as letters need to share our visual input channels. Skilled readers unconsciously re-order the letters that are not necessarily perceived as we would expect. To do this, however, they must have a good knowledge of frequent spelling patterns. Only this knowledge enables the recognition and re-ordering of the letter sequences. We do it based upon a strong network of interletter associations. Letters that tend to go together are most likely to be reassembled in that way. For example, d is 40 times more likely to be followed by r than by n.

    Of course, some words create particular problems – sprite and stripe, priest and ripest?

    However, it does not follow that beginning readers can be taught successfully using this whole word approach. One of the mistakes of the Whole Language school is to presume that the methods used by skilled readers should be introduced to beginners, without undergoing the phonological stage. In the parallel processing model, skilled readers continue to perceive letters (though more slowly than the whole word) after having detected the whole word and pronounced it automatically. It’s probably how we detect spelling errors during proof reading.

    It makes a difference, too, how severely you mangle the letter order. Try this version:

    Adocrnicg to rrheashecc by the Litunsgiic Dmrepnteat at Cgmdabrie Uvtinseriy, it dsen’ot mtetar in waht oerdr the lteerts in a wrod are, the olny inpeamott tnihg is taht the fsrit and lsat lteter be at the rghit palce. The rset can be a ttoal mses and you can slitl raed it wtouhit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the hmaun mnid deos not raed eervy lteter by iestlf, but the wrod as a wolhe.

    Notice that the shorter the word, the less different from conventional it becomes when letters are transposed. As sentences become more complex, the task becomes more difficult.

    Try this one:
    hgpcrhliioyes deeephrcid rrdleegass of coetnohmrirc oeabclsts rrieuvsce imitnfiry lbuamr reiogn and sulipeiurocs onioipn ibtlrefuray aollw oudvere-amengcwdnkoelt of ploruesivy vesiceols steiennt proesanges
    Translation Hieroglyphics, deciphered regardless of chronometric obstacles, recursive infirmity (lumbar region), and supercilious opinion, irrefutably allow overdue-acknowledgment of previously voiceless sentient personages.

    • David Boulton November 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

      Hello and thank you for engaging Dr. Hempenstall.

      I have great respect for Marilyn Adams ( but I think this is a misleading way to think about why the information is ‘noisy’. It’s a visual modality analog of the ‘not much of a fault’ part of my conversation with Michael Merenich ( about the sound processing involved in reading.

      Not Much of A Fault:

      Dr. Michael Merzenich: I mean, you wouldn’t have to have much of a fault in this machine operating with high speed in this incredible processing efficiency that’s required to begin to see somebody be a little slower at it or a lot slower at it. And so therefore, dyslexia, in a self-organizing machine of this nature, is an expected problem. It’s an expected weakness. It should apply very widely.

      David Boulton: In addition to the underlying sound processing issues we talked about earlier, wouldn’t the trouble also be related to the confusion in correspondence between letters and sounds? That the more brain time it takes to resolve the ambiguity…

      Dr. Michael Merzenich: Absolutely.

      David Boulton: The greater the stress on the system to produce…

      Dr. Michael Merzenich: Make the representation of the sound parts of words a little fuzzy and it’s going to slow down the ability. And as soon as you do you also have a decline in processing efficiency, the ability to hear something and rapidly translate it or to do anything with it has slowed down.

      David Boulton: Doesn’t that same exact argument apply to the fuzziness between sounds and letters?

      Dr. Michael Merzenich: Absolutely it does.

      David Boulton: That’s a technological artifact not a naturally occurring sound scape variation. That’s my point.

      Dr. Michael Merzenich: Yes, absolutely. Yes, it is in a sense a technological artifact. Absolutely.

      I am not arguing that there aren’t visual and auditory differentiation and related processing issues ( rather that they pale in contrast to the bigger issue: the code disambiguation overhead involved in working out word recognition.

      I am not advocating changing the spelling or the alphabet. But I think the leaders of reading science have not served us well by avoiding the relationship between code ambiguities and the brain’s processing challenges that underlie learning to read difficulty (see ‘Paradigm Inertia’:

      The quality of a solution to a problem depends on the quality of our understanding of the problem. We can’t come up with creative solutions to problems we are psychologically or politically averse to understanding. If we set aside the historical/political inertia and dispassionately and openly look at the various brain processing challenges involved in learning to read, the great bottleneck to fluent processing is obviously code ambiguity (particularly the precious time it takes to resolve the confusion). Everything we talk so endlessly about is warped around assuming that because we can’t envision a way around the code ambiguity (orthographic reform) we don’t need to understand its role in learning to read difficulties.

      I agree completely with the short comings of the Whole Language philosophy.

      Your examples were fun and helpful.

      Thank you.



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